Writer: Kevin Robinson-Avila
ALBUQUERQUE - New Mexico's frontline defenders against biological threats to the food chain will be taught how to respond to natural and human-caused threats at a July 20-21 training session in Albuquerque.
New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, the state Department of Agriculture and the New Mexico Livestock Board organized the training, which is sponsored by New Mexico's Homeland Security Office.
County agricultural agents, NMDA staff and livestock inspectors will be trained as "first responders" in a biosecurity crisis, said Billy Dictson, homeland security training coordinator for NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics.
"Extension agents, crop and livestock experts and veterinarians would likely be the first ones to recognize that an incident had occurred, and they'd probably be the first ones on the scene," Dictson said. "The training is to prepare these first responders for an emergency situation."
The session is the first of a series of planned agricultural biosecurity trainings, Dictson said.
"A multiagency task force did a comprehensive assessment last year of the potential terrorism risks in each county, and they concluded that agriculture is among the top five or six most vulnerable sectors," Dictson said. "After identifying strengths and weaknesses, they decided widespread training for first responders is an essential first step for emergency preparedness."
NMSU's Internet Conferencing Center will host an online workshop in January to train food processors statewide on protecting against bioterrorism, Dictson said. Other workshops will provide specialized training for food industry managers and workers throughout the food chain, he said.
At the Albuquerque training, agricultural professionals will learn about crop biosecurity, including high-risk plant diseases and insect pests. Presenters will explain how to secure and handle plant samples, how to submit samples and how to access the National Plant Detection Network. Trainers will discuss how to organize rapid response teams and avoid spreading diseases to other farms.
Livestock specialists will learn how to detect and diagnose some foreign animal diseases and how to report, respond and contain potential disease outbreaks. Trainers will discuss interstate livestock movement, new federal animal identification regulations and federal agencies' and first responders' roles in containing diseases.
Brig. Gen. Annette Sobel, director of the state Homeland Security Office, will address participants both days. Sobel and trainers will be available for news interviews. Reporters interested in scheduling interviews should contact Kevin Robinson-Avila at (505) 323-8604.
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